2021 Kia K5 review: The one to beat

The K5 is a Snez-Lookin sedan.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

The Kia K5 – formerly known as the Optima – comes on the scene with a new name, a new look and new powertrain options. All of these not only serve to differentiate it from its predecessor, but also help it stand out in a crowded crop of competing midsize sedans.


  • The vibrant 1.6-liter turbo motor is now standard
  • Agile, easy-to-drive performance
  • Solid Standard Cabin & Safety Tech Suite

do not like it

  • Only the small screen provides wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
  • Automatic lighting is also touch sensitive

The beauty is mostly new, but the proportions of the K5 are not far from the previous Optima. Overall, the sedan is about 2 inches long with a 1.8-inch long wheelbase. Cargo and passenger volume are within a few cubic inches of last year’s numbers. The roofline is about an inch shorter, accenting a more “stinger-like” fastback profile. With the increased length, it gives the K5 a much more planted and menacing look than the Optima. However, unlike the Stinger, the K5 is not a liftback, which maintains a trunk separate from the cabin. A hallmark of the Optima design – based on the chrome from the rear path of the vehicle through the A-pillar – is a hallmark of the Optima design.

At the front, the K5’s “tiger nose” grille is flanked by amber LED day-time running lights with a zigzag design. The new sedan also makes the Fox Fender of the old one look cleaner. At the rear you’ll find a new full-width LED taillight assembly that ties the design together nicely, making the sedan as wide as before.

My example is a midrange GT-Line model, which adds a flair of sporty temperament without performance upgrades to the more powerful, full K5 GT. The GT-Line features 18-inch alloy wheels, gloss black rear spoiler and front and rear bumper with LED foglight. Inside, the seats feature a flat-bottom steering wheel and unique syntax leatherhat upholstery.

1.6-liter turbo engine

Kia’s 1.6-liter SmartStream turbo engine replaces the old 2.4-liter I4 as the K5’s base engine, making 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It is 5 hp less than the 2.4-liter engine, but perhaps even more importantly, boosts to 17 lb-ft, giving this engine a lively feel around the city.


GT-Line models have the performance benefits of true GT models without styling and feature upgrades.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

The 1.6T is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that seems to be a good match for the engine. Together, they are not a supersported pair – especially with the GT-line’s lack of paddle shifters – but they make an attractive pair that is smooth and balanced with enough thrust while sporting quiet performance in normal drive mode Does.

K5 driving is best described as light and easy. From steering to throttle response, the sedan feels light on its toes, not agile and tedious. There is less feedback through the wheel than the Honda Accord or Mazda 6, which has better steering, but the Kia is nonetheless responsive. In a class where your choices are usually numb and isolated or overly firm and “sport-tuned”, the K5 stands out as one of the good ones, especially a balanced and joyful drive.

This year also, the Optima / K5 is available for the first time with all-wheel drive. Checking this box adds the bottom line at $ 3,700 as it also rolls in a premium equipment package. Of course, the all-wheel drive option estimates the K5 fuel economy to be 26 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined, so if you live in a state where you don’t need extra grip, Consider sticking with it. Front-wheel drive configuration, where most K5 models are good for a clear 27 city, 37 highway, and 31 combined mpg. During my testing week, I averaged 29.9 mpg with the FWD. The base K5 LX model stands out differently, achieving 1-2 mpg on board versus higher trims, most likely thanks to its lower weight and less creature comfort.

If you want a higher level of performance, the K5 GT features a more powerful 2.5-liter engine with 311 hp and 290 lb-ft. I’m evaluating in a separate review soon, so stay tuned.


The K5’s list of standard safety features is impressive, but there are some oddities.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

Excellent Driver Assistance Technology

The 2021 Kia K5 keeps current with the Automaker suite of standard safety and driver-assist technologies, with lane-departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward early warning, pedestrian detection, driver vigilance monitoring and automatic headlamps Each model equipped with a high-beam system. Kia’s auto-light technologies are very sensitive to my taste, though; While driving around in broad daylight, I actively catch headlamps passing under dense trees or overpasses, causing the map to flick from day to night mode, which is distracting. I also find the automatic high-beam annoying, which is also active at low speeds on my properly illuminated residential road.

At higher trim levels, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts are added to the feature set, and Kia’s full-speed adaptive cruise control comes online as an optional device. The latter works well, even at stop-and-go speeds, without jerking when other vehicles merge into or out of my lane. These upper trim levels can also upgrade cyclist detection and emergency braking assist setup with junction assistance, which helps prevent collisions during cross-traffic (left-hand) turns.

Cabin Tech: bigger is not always better

Kia’s Cabin Tech is usually quite simple and easy to understand, but the 2021 adds some weird details you want to keep an eye on. In the dashboard you can get the K5 with an 8-inch or 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Both run the latest generation versions of the automaker UVO Software based on trim and chosen options. Both are cleverly organized and easy to use with features ranging from surprisingly useful (voice memo recorder) to weird (ambient sound).

Both also have standards Android Auto And Apple carplay. However, while the smaller unit has wireless connectivity for Android and Apple phones, the 10.25-inch model only connects via USB. For this reason alone, I would personally like to live with the small curtain. The difference in visual real estate is not very large, but the wireless phone connection is more convenient, allowing for less cluttered cabins to be made without hanging cables. This makes the optional wireless phone charging slot a more compelling and useful upgrade.

Of course, if you plan to use onboard software, it is less than a node to take. Kia’s built-in navigation is very good and easy to use with natural language voice recognition and address input. The menu structure makes sense and is much easier to thank thanks to the dedicated hardware shortcut button at the bottom of the screen, leading to each major function.


Smaller UVO systems (pictured here) feature wireless Android and Apple connectivity that the larger unit lacks.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

Pricing and competition

The 2021 Kia K5 starts at $ 24,585 for the base LX (including $ 995 for the destination), an increase of only $ 100 from last year’s opening price. Considering the K5 brings more standard equipment from the Optima, not to mention the optional upgrade once in the turbocharged engine, I think it’s worth the extra flour.

While the Thiftiest LX will be tempted by its lower price and slightly better fuel economy, I think the sweet spot in the lineup is probably the front-drive GT-line. It is slightly more expensive, starting at $ 26,485, but adds more standard features, looks better and has a higher level of safety equipment. Consider an optional $ 1,600 GT-line premium package with its LED headlamps and interior lights, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, smarter collision avoidance technology, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise. As tested and equipped, you are looking at $ 28,085 by the door. Drivers who require all-wheel drive certainty still look at $ 30,185 with a premium pack.


The 2021 K5 sits in a lovely space of great performance, desirable features and excellent value.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

It is almost at least two grand compared to an equally equipped Toyota Camry with all-wheel drive – with more or less-attractive performance and easier technology. Honda’s Accord is only available with front-wheel drive, yet is more expensive than the K5 AWD. The Mazda 6 is slightly cheaper and more fun to drive, but boasts less space for people and cargo as well as more restrained technology.

The 2021 Kia K5 and the new Hyundai Sonata stand as my top picks in the affordable midsize sedan space, with the Kia matching the technology, safety features, quality and price of its cousins. However, the K5 moves on to more subjective metrics, with a more attractive style and faster performance.

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